College is first and foremost a time of self-discovery, so when selecting the right college it is important to find a place where you will feel comfortable, safe and supported while exploring. Support is usually built, and the ability to build a community is not often apparent during campus visits-- taking stock of the social atmosphere will help with this decision. Safety can be determined by safety statistics (something every college is required to provide) and the campus Security personanel. On a small campus, you can get to know the security guards quite well and it's good to know they're their to look after you. Determining your comfort level at a college requires looking at all aspects of a school-- academics, social life, locations, etc.-- but it probably best determined by intuition. Visit the campus, meet students, and see how you feel at the end of the day. When you've found a place that's just right, you won't even have to ask how you know it.
Don't cave under the pressure of the SAT/applications process: scoring low on the test doesn't guarantee that you'll become a janitor. It isn't the end of the world if you don't get into the school of your choice, because college is what you make of it. It's always going to be difficult socially, whether you go to a huge university or a tiny liberal arts college, so seek out people where you're most comfortable and do whatever makes you happy -- not what it might seem like everyone else is doing. Cultivate at least one strong relationship with a faculty member -- it will ground you academically and help with networking after graduation. If you can, do an internship or two: it'll help you narrow down career prospects and build your resume. Finally, cut out the binge drinking -- I realize college is everyone's first taste of freedom, but there's no need to overdo it. Plus, it's just not that cool.
When I was in high school, eleven and a half years ago, I was confused and angry going through one of the hardest periods of my life. I had to take care of my mother single-handedly, a bi-polar patient, hallucinating and paranoid, who was manic and sometimes refused to wear clothes. I began to work right after graduating from high school, earning for us. I acted on stage and television and taught Art in a school part time. In Pakistan, earning from either profession is not lucrative at all. I earned up to a $1000 from acting and less than $500 from teaching. However, these years of working and earning taught me a lot about myself. I learnt who I was and what I wanted; I feel this is essential to college learning. However, being older has it's disadvantages in a small college. If I could redo it, if things were different, I might have tried to leave only a few years after graduating college.
If I could go back in time and advise my high school self about college life, I would counsel both open-mindedness and courage. Going to college is a major change, a big step forward, and it can be frightening, but it is also an adventure, and I would tell my high school self to enjoy every minute of it, as much as she could. I would tell her to take full advantage of all available opportunities for learning and for financial aid, for if she didn't, she would regret it later. I would tell her to talk to different people, and to take as many different classes as possible. I would warn her not to get stuck in an academic or emotional rut, or to perform the same activities over and over. Most of all, I would tell her not to be afraid: college can be frightening and challenging, but it is one of the most exciting periods of a person's life, a great opportunity. Seize it.
It is important to visit the schools you are interested in. It is easy to decide that you like a school by reading about it and connecting it to your own goals. However, I think that it can only help to go visit and spend the night. Check out the classes and the social life. I transferred to Bennington at the beginning of my junior year, and it was really hard. It is difficult for me to have regrets, but I sometimes think it would have served me better to have been at Bennington the whole way through school. Bennington gives students a chance to explore and decide who they really are and what they want out of life without rushing them into a major. I wish I could have been learning in such an environment all along. That in mind, be sure to pick a school where you can grow and develope, and change your mind if you need to. That's the best advice I can give.
My biggest advice to students would be to seek the advice of your parents and friends - anyone, really, who can give you a perspective on what your college life and what your life after college may be like. Don't forget that! You WILL have a life after college, and remember that what college you go to, what education you get, how well you do and how much money you spend on your education will all affect your life after college. So think closely about it, and plan ahead. As for parents - please tell your children the truth. Don't sugar-coat things. Don't encourage them to do something that you know might be a bad idea just because you see that they want it. Parents are parents for a reason - mainly, because they have life experiences that can help guide their children. Help your children be rational and smart about their futures.
If you are thinking of moving out of state (or away from home) to attend college; make sure you visit the college you are interested in and spend sometime in the area before you decide. Also visit colleges that you AREN'T interested in that are within a 20-50 mile radius of your dream school. Since you will hypothetically be living in that area, finding out what other educational, social, recreational and employment opportunities are in your new community can help feel more at home. Once you have moved to your new environment, dont be afraid to go out and take advantage of the opportunities in the community, rather than staying on campus. Think of yourself as a citizen instead of a student... volunteer, go to local events, support local businesses, make yourself known in the community!
Colleges that facilitate large student bodies and classrooms are more like factories. Everyone gets equal attention and work, but the value of the individual is greatly decreased. Smaller Colleges offer more personalized approaches, but don't necessarily give equal amount of work or attention. I think that if someone is to truly learn valuable skills, then a lecture hall is one of the worst places to go. This goes especially towards parents who try to support creative thinking. In a discussion based classroom, the ones eager to learn and utilize their skills are rewarded for their creativity. And any good parent knows positive reinforcement works ten-fold over negative reinforcement.
When you don't get into your first choice, people will say that it was "meant to be." It's more than a cheesy consolation: it's true. The school you go to, whether it's your first choice or your fourth, will shape the person you become and help prepare you for the future. There are problems with every school, and it's the way that you deal with those problems that will help you grow as a person. Choose a school that feels best to you and take classes you feel are right, but don't be afraid to change schools or try something new if you're not satisfied. College is about the experience, so take every opportunity you can to grow.
When I was applying for college, the president of Bard told me one thing: "It's not where a person goes to school, but what he does when he gets there." That said, I did not get into Bard. At Bennington College, however, I found my home. I have been blessed with a wonderful group of friends and the drive to do unprecedented things. It just goes to show that with the right match and equal motivation, whatever you wish to acheive can be done regardless of the school. Keep your hopes high and your ambition strong.